For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says About the Adversary

The following thoughts are from my patron, St. Macarius the Great.

from Homily 26.

Question. Does Satan know all of a man’s thoughts and intentions?

Answer. If one man, by being acquainted with another, knows about him, and you, who are twenty years old, know the affairs of your neighbor, can Satan fail to know your reasonings? He has been with you from your birth. He is six thousand years old (Note: This is a very rough calculation from the LXX chronology of the Old Testament, which differs from the Hebrew). Yet I do not say that he knows what a man will do before he tempts him. The tempter tempts, but does not know whether the man will yield or not yield, till such time as the soul gives up its will into bondage.

Nor do I say that the devil knows all the thoughts and devices of the heart. Suppose there is a tree with many branches and many limbs. A man may be able to grasp two or three branches of the tree. So the soul has many branches and many limbs. There are some branches of thought and intention which Satan grasps; there are other thoughts and intentions not grasped by Satan.

In one thing the side of evil is the stronger when thoughts spring up; in another, the mans’ thought is more than conqueror, receiving succour and deliverance from God, and resisting sin. At one point the man is mastered, at another he has his will. Sometimes he comes to God with fervour, and Satan knows it, and sees that he is acting against him, and cannot restrain him.

Why? Because he has the will to cry to God; he has the natural fruits of loving God, of believing, of seeking and coming. In the outer world, the farmer tills the ground; but in spite of his tilling, he needs rains and showers from above. If no moisture comes from above, the farmer has no profit from his tilling of the ground.

So is it with the spiritual world. There are two factors to be taken into consideration. The man must cultivate with a will the ground of his heart, and labor upon it—for God requires the mans’ labor and toil and travail. But unless clouds of heaven make their appearance from above, and showers of grace, the farmer does not profit by his toil.

This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains “; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.”

He should every day have the hope and the joy and the expectation of the coming kingdom and deliverance, and to say, “If today I have not been delivered, I shall tomorrow.” As the man who plants a vine has the joy and the hope in himself, before ever he embarks upon the toil, and sketches out vineyards in his mind, and reckons up the income, when there has been no wine yet, and so enters upon the toil—for the hope and expectation make him work cheerfully, and for the time being he incurs many expenses out of pocket; and in like manner the man who builds a house, and the man who tills a field, are at much expense to themselves first, in hope of the advantage to come; so it is here.

If a man does not keep before his eyes the joy and the hope, “I shall find deliverance and life,” he cannot endure the afflictions, or the burden, and adopt the narrow way. It is the presence of hope and joy that make him labour and endure the afflictions.

But as it is not easy for a brand to escape from the fire, so neither can the soul escape out of the fire of death, except with a great deal of trouble. For the most part, Satan, under pretext of good thoughts, that “in such and such a way you can please God,” offers suggestions to the soul, and underhand seduces it to subtle and specious notions, and it does not know how to discern that it is being seduced, and thus it falls into the snare and perdition of the devil (1 Tim. iii. 7, and vi. 9).

The most deadly weapon of the combatant and champion is this: to enter into the heart and make war there upon Satan, and to hate himself and to deny his own soul, to be angry with it and rebuke it, and to resist the desires that dwell there, and grapple with his thoughts, and fight with himself.

If outwardly you keep your body from corruption and fornication, but inwardly commit adultery, to God you are an adulterer and a fornicator in your thoughts, and you have gained nothing by the virginity of your body. If there is a young woman and a young man, and he by guile wheedles her till she is corrupted, she then becomes an object of loathing to her spouse, because she has been unfaithful. So the incorporeal soul, if it holds fellowship with the serpent that lurks within, the wicked spirit, goes a-whoring from God, as it is written, “Everyone that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart”(Matt v.28).

There is a fornication effected in the body, and there is a fornication of the soul, when it holds fellowship with Satan. The same soul is partner and sister either of devils, or of God and the angels; and if it commits adultery with the devil, it is unfit for the heavenly Bridegroom.

Read the entire homily here. St. Macarius the Great, pray for us.

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Because it is Only Rational That One Should Submit to Guidance

I’ve shared in this space thoughts on private interpretation of the scriptures before. Stuff from the Treasure Chest, like the article written by Father Bampfield for the Catholic Truth Society. I’ve even shared my own thoughts on this subject by way of my experience with land navigation and map reading skills.

I’ve been flipping through my new favorite classic, The Catholic’s Ready Answer, which I introduced to you this morning. Here again are Jesuit Fathers Michael P. Hill, and F. X. Brors (how is that surname pronounced?!), using their god-given ability to reason, along with God’s grace-filled gift of faith, to explain clearly, succinctly, and definitively, the Catholic approach to interpreting the Bible.

Think, “The Church interprets the Bible, as the Supreme Court of the United States interprets the Constitution”, and you’ll understand the Catholic position in a New York minute. First up? How I was taught as a child, followed by what I learned as a man (and by faith and reason knew what must be true). Common sense, and clear teaching, is coming your way.

BIBLE INTERPRETATIONS

Protestant Position:

—The Bible teaches all necessary truth to all who approach the study of it in the right spirit. In the Scriptures God speaks to the human soul, and no interpreter of His words is needed but the soul itself, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

Catholic Position:

—The above, if we mistake not, is a fair statement of the Protestant view of private interpretation. It differs essentially from the Catholic principle, according to which private interpretation is controlled by the authority of a divinely established Church.

But now a question: What are the grounds of the Protestant position? As the Bible is the Protestant’s final rule of faith, he should be able to quote chapter and verse for this as well as for any other article of his faith. Where in the whole compass of the sacred writings is there a passage enunciating the principle of private and independent interpretation? There are passages in abundance setting forth the benefits resulting from a reading of the Word of God, but none which declare that the individual reader is independent of all control in his interpretation of it.

In opposing such independence we do not mean to imply that the Bible is simply an unintelligible book. Quite the contrary, many parts of Scripture are plain narratives of matters of fact, and the more obvious sense of the text is the true one, or at least one true one. But other parts of the Bible abound in mysteries, or in other obscurities of one kind or another. This was doubtless the case even in the original version of the several books; but what shall we say of the modern translations—the imperfect medium through which all but a few readers get a glimpse of the revealed truth?

Now, is it likely that every chance reader, however good his disposition, possesses a “key to the Scriptures” and sees his way through all their obscurity of thought and expression? Is it not to be feared that the assumption of such power of interpretation will have injurious, and in some cases even disastrous, effects upon the reader? St. Peter the apostle, speaking of the epistles of St. Paul, says of them that they “contain certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter iii. 16). If this declaration, made by no less an authority than St. Peter, and to the very people to whom the epistles of St. Paul were addressed, was justified at the time, is it not to be feared that now, after twenty centuries, the same causes are producing even worse effects?

The Apostle here mentions two effects which he traces to three causes. The two effects are: 1. The wresting— that is to say, the twisting or distorting—of the meaning of Scripture; 2. The spiritual self-destruction of the reader. The causes are: 1. The intrinsic difficulties of the text; 2. Ignorance; 3. Instability (unsteadfastness, as it reads in the Revised Version). The same three causes are in operation to-day, and doubtless tend, in varying degrees, to produce the same effects. The text, with its intrinsic difficulties, remains. Ignorance remains; for the three R’s are the highest reach of knowledge for millions; and what special insight into Scripture is furnished by the three R’s?

But have not some gone much farther than the three R’s? Surely; they have learned their chemistry, or their physics, or their mathematics. But none of these sciences furnish a key to the obscurities of St. Paul. But have we no theologians or exegetes? Certainly we have; and they have helped us not a little to understand the sacred volume; but if we may believe Dr. Littledale it was just from this class that most of the ancient heresies took their rise; and all the theology in the world can not, of itself, secure a man from that instability of which St. Paul speaks—that is to say, from that intellectual and moral giddiness which often accompanies the greatest learning.

But, our opponents will tell us, at least let a man approach the reading of the Scriptures in a prayerful spirit, and he may expect to receive interior illumination. Doubtless a prayerful reading of Scripture has produced much insight into the meaning of the sacred text. But let us not mistake the issue in the present discussion. We do not deny the possibility of personal illumination. God, from the beginning, has deigned to speak to the individual soul. But—and this is the most important thing we have to say in the present article—there is nothing more illusory than the impression of having been enlightened from on high; and in the whole course of religious history nothing has proved more pernicious than the seeing in supposed illumination a practical rule of faith or of conduct.

Where God does really enlighten, no one can enlighten so well; but it is one thing to be enlightened, another to think one is enlightened. Many of our Catholic saints have received what they have described as marvelous illumination, but none were more distrustful of such illumination than the very recipients of it. And yet just the contrary has been the case with those leaders of men from Luther to Mrs. Eddy who have confidently proclaimed a special illumination in their interpretation of Scripture. And when we see the number of such claimants to inspirationand compare their clashing creeds—all based on the same Word of God—and listen to the war of words in which each denounces all the others, we begin to see the utter hollowness of the theory of private interpretation.

Religious chaos was never intended to be the result of the preaching of the Christian revelation. And yet chaos is the necessary result of Christian preaching when it is based on private interpretation. But worse than chaos are the ultimate logical consequences of the theory, for amidst the chaos at least some fragments of the truth remain; but even these are destined to disappear under the powerful solvent of independent judgment. The principle of private judgment is to-day working itself out most consistently in the land of its origin. In Germany individual judgment, even amongst the ministers of religion, who are supposed to have committed themselves to a fixed creed, is rapidly dissolving the fabric of Christianity itself.

Personal illumination is, therefore, in no absolute sense a safe guide. In one’s meditation on Scripture one may, of course, feel that reflection throws some light upon words or sentences heretofore obscure; many sound conclusions may be drawn; spiritual insight may increase; but still, considering that there are many things in Scripture “hard to be understood,” and that so many readers of Scripture have been mistaken in their interpretations, it is only rational that one should submit to guidance, if a guide can be found. And that a guide has been provided by a kind Providence can not be matter of doubt when one reflects on the unspeakable wisdom displayed in all God’s works and, on the other hand, on the sad consequences which are seen to follow the rejection of authority in so important a matter as the interpretation of the word of God.

Evidently, then, there is an infallible interpreter appointed by God Himself; and that infallible interpreter can be no other than the Church of Christ, which St. Paul tells us is “the pillar and ground of truth.” (1 Tim. iii. 15.)

If that sounds sort of like “We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident: no one person can interpret Scriptures,” then so be it. Because the Holy Father wants you to read the Bible.

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Quote of the Week

In recollection, news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for their (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

—Fray Francisco de Osuna (1492 – 1540 AD)

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Mish Mash Rock (Music for Monday’s)

How’s your upcoming week looking? I’m trying to keep calm. Here’s how I don’t want to feel like come Friday.


Of course, there are no guarantees that it won’t end up like that, but I like starting the week off with a laugh. “Take that, high anxiety!” And I like to start the week off with some tunes as well. They’re from all over the spectrum. A true mish mash assortment, for sure.

Maybe you’ll like a few of ‘em.

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends. ‘Nuff said?

Eric Clapton, I Shot the Sheriff. Seriously. At least I didn’t shoot the deputy. As for the sheriff, I just did what had to be done.

Real Life, Send Me An Angel. This always makes me think of Star Trek. I don’t think that was the artist’s intent, but that’s the breaks.

The Knack, My Sharona. Took the family to see Super-8 at the movies this past weekend. Left the theater with this earworm in my head. Sorry!

Foo Fighters, Learn to Fly. Dave Grohl is a gifted musician and songwriter. Listen to the lyrics of this song. Regardless of the reason why he wrote it, what he thinks he’s sayin’, this answers reasons YIMCatholic.

Carlos Santana, Evil Ways. I dedicated this song to a friend this morning. She is so Evil! How evil is she? As evil as me. How evil is that? Gotta change.

John Cougar Mellencamp, Pink Houses. I saw this in the news today. While reading that, this song popped into my head.

Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cutter. I heard this on the radio earlier this week. It’s been a million years since I heard this! Spare us the cutter, indeed.

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Because It’s Not Nice To Fool With Mother Nature

Remember those wacky commercials for Chiffon Margarine back in the 1970′s? Here’s a clip to jog  your memories (or to educate those who missed them). This is sort of like a funny primer on Natural Law. The real vs the simulacra brought into your den with a wink and a nod.

You know it’s true, but you fool around with the state of nature anyway. Don’t worry, it’s all in great fun. No problem!

Fast foward forty years and check out what fooling with Mother Nature has wrought. Girls becoming an endangered part of our species. Which means the species as a whole is endangered. Huh?

Have a look at this Wall Street Journal Book Review. Reviewing author Mara Hvistendahl’s Unnatual Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Jonathan V. Last writes:

Mara Hvistendahl is worried about girls. Not in any political, moral or cultural sense but as an existential matter. She is right to be. In China, India and numerous other countries (both developing and developed), there are many more men than women, the result of systematic campaigns against baby girls. In “Unnatural Selection,” Ms. Hvistendahl reports on this gender imbalance: what it is, how it came to be and what it means for the future.

In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that’s as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.

Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China’s and India’s populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.

What is causing the skewed ratio: abortion. If the male number in the sex ratio is above 106, it means that couples are having abortions when they find out the mother is carrying a girl. By Ms. Hvistendahl’s counting, there have been so many sex-selective abortions in the past three decades that 163 million girls, who by biological averages should have been born, are missing from the world. Moral horror aside, this is likely to be of very large consequence.

****

If you peer hard enough at the data, you can actually see parents demanding boys. Take South Korea. In 1989, the sex ratio for first births there was 104 boys for every 100 girls—perfectly normal. But couples who had a girl became increasingly desperate to acquire a boy. For second births, the male number climbed to 113; for third, to 185. Among fourth-born children, it was a mind-boggling 209. Even more alarming is that people maintain their cultural assumptions even in the diaspora; research shows a similar birth-preference pattern among couples of Chinese, Indian and Korean descent right here in America.

Read the rest and remember, it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. Don’t get your wires crossed.

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Because Good Friends Are Golden

A few days back, it was the Feast Day of St. Barnabas. You may or may not recall that he was St. Paul’s companion on his first mission trip. They were fast friends in the faith, traveling hither and yon spreading the Good News together to the Gentiles.

You can learn more about Barnabas over at the Catholic Encyclopedia. The record shows that at some point, the two went their separate ways. Perhaps it was a falling out, but perhaps it was just that they were called in different directions by the same Spirit that brought them together in the first place.

Good friends are able to put up with each other, while also being their own men. All the while enjoying each other’s company. There is a movie that hit the theaters the day after St. Barnabus’ Day that is about a trip that two friends take touring the restaurants of Northern England together.

It’s not so surprisingly called The Trip and it stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing versions of themselves. The Trip was originally a six part miniseries on the BBC2 network, which I (of course) never even knew about.

A friend of mine posted a few clips from the movie on his Facebook page, and I was dying laughing from the impressions Brydon and Coogan pull off on the likes of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, and even Woody Allen during the course of their performances. Have a look at the trailer (pardon any commercials),

Reading some of the reviews, there is lots of fun, but also plenty of pathos too. In the fun department though, I have a few friends who I could do this kind of thing with all day long,

Leave my sister out of it is right! You have to admit that these two guys have a gift for improvisation. Man, did you see that? They went all Scottish on us. Stand-by for some Big Country!

Big Country-In A Big Country by adiis

Back to the film,  Metacritic (remember them?) weighs in with a score of 81, which for all intents and purposes is a home-run right out of the park. Honey? We’re going to the movies (if this ever makes it to Galilee).

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From the Treasure Chest: The Catholic Religion and Art

I’ve got this hobby of finding electronic versions of great books about the Catholic Faith. I share this pastime with everyone who stops by here too, via the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. At last count, I’ve added 853(!) fully searchable volumes to the shelf so far. There’s no cost to read or download them, and we’re open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Just the other day I found some books that were digitized from the collection of the Monastic Library of the Abbey of Gethsemani. Yes, the one in Kentucky where Fr. Louis was a monk and priest. They also spent some time on the shelves, and possibly still do, at the University of California in Berkeley. Who knew?

[Read more...]

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Because Catholics Can Dig Science

I enjoy stories like this one about experiments on Einstein’s theories. Gravity Probe- B, launched into space in 2004? You don’t remember that either?

Faith and reason are compatible, see. Thankfully there are rocket-scientists that get the funding to study warping of space and time. Neat! Especially when you consider that the idea to do these types of experiments came about 40 years ago, you know, when computers were still the size of large rooms.

Here’s an excerpt from the BBC story below,

The satellite’s observations show the massive body of the Earth is very subtly warping space and time, and even pulling them around with it.

Scientists were able to see these effects by studying the behaviour of four perfectly engineered spinning balls carried inside the probe.

The results will be published online in the journal Physical Review Letters.

They are significant because they underline once again the genius of the great German-born scientist, but also because they provide more refined tools to understand the physics that drives the cosmos.

On a more human level, the findings represent the culmination of an extraordinary odyssey for the leading lights of the mission, some of whom have dedicated more than five decades to the quest.

These include Francis Everitt, the mission’s principal investigator at Stanford University – a researcher who was there at the inception of the Gravity Probe B (GP-B) idea in the late 1950s.

Like I said earlier. Neat! Read the rest here.

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Because Osama Bin Laden’s Compound Near St. Peter’s Church?

Obviously, this is not one of the reasons why I am Catholic. But it is interesting anyway, especially given my previous post today. Here’s why.

Remember last Fall I asked you to pray for the flood victims in Pakistan?  Well, as it turns out, that was when you first inadvertently prayed for your enemy, Osama Bin Laden.  You see, his compound was in the same city as St. Peter’s Church.

Lest you believe it looks like Club Med, let me assure you that it isn’t. Here is a link to a story of families seeking refuge in the church there as reported by Caritas after an earthquake in 2005. And here is another link to a story of Pakistani flood victims in Abbottabad from last Fall in which you can see photographs of the church.

Below is an embedded link map of the city center that was put up by Google. It’s not where the compound is centered, but you can zoom in and see St. Peter’s Church close to the military academy, along with the the Abbottabad Presbyterian Church. Who knew?

View Larger Map

Check out the town, and have a look around. If you visit, be sure to go to Mass and say a prayer. But say a prayer for our enemies now too. It’s good for the soul.

Update: Pray for the safety of the Christians in Abbottabad.

Update II: Now this is more like it! This is the actual compound which matches the graphic in the CathNewsUSA link above as well as the description provided by the White House press conference. North and east of the city center, it is surrounded by farm land.

View Larger Map

And a video as well,

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Pat McNamara on “Why I Am Catholic”

One of the first blogs I ever read was McNamara’s Blog. I enjoy it because I enjoy history. And as a new Catholic, the amount of Church history I do know is tiny compared to what is available for me to learn. Pat McNamara, who also has a column over at Patheos, helps bring Church History to life for me.

This is the second time I have asked one of my blogging friends to write a post for me answering the phrase that headlines this space. Remember the first time? Each of us has a different reason, but as conversion is on-going (and not a “one and done event”) each one of us must confront the reason as we make progress along the path of our individual pilgrimages.

So Pat, if I asked you to answer “Why I Am Catholic,” what would you say?

Because of Church History, Not In Spite of It
by Pat McNamara

Perugino’s The Delivery of the Keys

Today, the question is asked with greater frequency, in a variety of places: Why Stay Catholic? People are leaving the Church for various reasons: celibacy, lack of leadership roles for women, abuse scandals, issues relating to sex and sexuality, and a sense that the leadership is out of touch with the people. At some point or another, every Catholic has to ask themselves: Why am I Catholic?

For me personally, history has a lot to do it. Catholics are literally surrounded by it. In our churches, we worship amid statues, paintings, mosaics and stained glass windows that depict past people and events. We sing hymns written long ago, sometimes centuries. While there have been many changes in the post-Vatican II Church, there are more continuities than we credit it for.

I’ve never had a head for philosophy or theology, and apologetics aren’t among my gifts. But from early on, Church history has been in my blood. Years ago, I found a quote that has become my favorite, from an English Protestant historian named Thomas Babington Macaulay. I love to use it when teaching the subject:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome

There is not and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church… She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

As Macaulay says, there’s never been anything like it in world history. For better or for worse, you can’t talk about the last two millennia without referencing it.

For Catholics, Church history is the story of God’s People in a particular time and in a particular place. That is to say, the fallible People of God. Take the words of Jean Baptiste Lacordaire (1802-1865), the French Dominican priest who was probably the greatest Catholic preacher of his time:

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

God has indeed conferred upon His Church the prerogative of infallibility, but to none of her members has He granted immunity from sin. Peter was a sinner and a renegade, and God has been at pains to have that fact recorded in the Gospels.

Right from the night of the Last Supper, there have been low points in Church history. Often cited are the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Pope Pius XII’s “silence” during the Holocaust. But let’s take the Renaissance Papacy, now the subject of an HBO minseries. Historian Eamon Duffy writes of it:

The Renaissance papacy evokes images of a Hollywood spectacular, all decadence and drag. Contemporaries viewed Renaissance Rome as we now view Nixon’s Washington, a city of expense-account whores and political graft, where everything and everyone had a price, where nothing and nobody could be trusted. The popes themselves seemed to set the tone.

Our Lady of Angels, Los Angeles
Tapestries by John Nava

Yet despite scandal and schism, the next hundred years also saw some of history’s greatest saints: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis De Sales, and Vincent De Paul, to name just a few. Blessed John Henry Newman considered this “one of the great arguments for Christianity.”

So there are high points and low points in Church history, but Catholics don’t see it as a meaningless cycle as the ancients did. In his City of God, St. Augustine explained the Christian understanding of history as linear, with a starting and ending point. As a Church, we have our ups and downs. We fall along the way. But we get up and move on toward our ultimate goal together. People create scandals, but God sends graces, and the people who respond to it we call saints.

History shows us, then, that we need not despair. There is hope. Father James Kent Stone, a 19th century American priest, wrote, “Yes, there have been scandals… if we look for them. But there have been saints and martyrs… of whom the world knows nothing. And there are saints still.” And though we are all fallible, from top to bottom, Jesus promised to remain with us until the end of time.

As people of faith, therefore, we have an obligation not to be discouraged, but to keep hope. For help is always in sight, and God’s grace is waiting for us to to respond. So for those of us who are discouraged by the current state of the Church, fear not. As Father Stone noted, the saints aren’t coming. They’re already here!

That’s why I am Catholic, and proud of it.

Inside St. Peters Basilica

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